An elite QB field in the divisional round

Jerry Sullivan

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) celebrates a touchdown pass against the Denver Broncos during the first half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec.. 19, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/Justin Edmonds)

(WIVB) — As you might have heard, the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. You don’t have much chance without a good one. The quarterback is the most vital position in sports, and it’s never more evident than at playoff time. 

But this year might be the most celebrated collection of quarterbacks ever assembled in the divisional round. Five of the eight have won either a league MVP, a Super Bowl MVP, or in the case of Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, both of those awards. 

The last three league MVPs (Lamar Jackson, Mahomes and Brady) will be playing next weekend, and this year’s MVP will almost surely be there, too, whether it’s Rodgers, Mahomes or the perceived long shot, Josh Allen. 

It’s a fascinating confluence of the old and the new, the young and old. The NFC round has three older guys, certain Hall of Famers who have combined for an astonishing 77 post-seasons starts in their careers: Tom Brady (42), Drew Brees (17) and Aaron Rodgers (18). 

Brady and Brees will meet next Sunday night when the Buccaneers and Saints collide in New Orleans. Brady is 43, Brees 42. It’ll be a geriatric’s delight, and bound to be one of the highest-rated playoff games ever in the prime-time Sunday night slot on FOX at the end of the divisional round. 

By contrast, the AFC will roll out the youngest quartet of starting quarterbacks since the NFL merged the leagues and went to an eight-team divisional round for the first time in 1970. 

All four of the AFC starters next weekend are 25 years of age or younger. The Bills’ Josh Allen and the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, both 24, will face off in Buffalo on Saturday night. Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield, a couple of 25-year-olds, will be matched up in the other AFC game. 

There’s been a changing of the guard in the AFC. In all three wild-card games over the weekend, a 30-plus quarterback lost to someone from the 2018 draft class. Allen, Mayfield and Jackson each won his first-ever playoff game, and at least one of them will get to his first AFC championship game.

Imagine how the Jets feel these days. They traded up to take Sam Darnold with the third overall pick in that ’18 draft and have won a total of 13 games in his three seasons. Allen and the Bills won 13 in this regular season alone. The Ravens are 30-7 in the regular season with Jackson as a starter. 

Success in the NFL is supposed to be cyclical, a consequence of the salary cap, the draft and free agency. But if you have an elite quarterback, it can supersede other factors. 

Brady’s teams have gone to the playoffs in 18 of his 20 seasons as the starter. Rodgers and the Packers have made the postseason in 10 of the last 12 years. Brees and the Saints have gone 10 times in his career. Peyton Manning’s teams made the playoffs 13 times in his career. 

That should augur well for the Bills, Browns and Ravens. The question, of course, is which young quarterback will evolve and have the greatest long-term success. There will also be other rising young talents, like the Bengals’ Joe Burrow and the Chargers’ Justin Herbert, looking to make their teams consistent playoff participants.

Here’s a snapshot look at the eight quarterbacks who will be competing in the divisional round next weekend:

TOM BRADY: First all-time in touchdown passes, regular season and playoffs. Second in regular-season passing yards, first in all-time post-season yards. Six Super Bowl championships, four Super Bowl MVP awards, far and away most victories, the GOAT. Enough said. Bills fans will be rooting hard against him.

DREW BREES: Career leader in regular-season passing yards with 80,358; career leader in completions and 300-yard passing games. Second to Brady in career TD passes; broke Johnny Unitas’s record for throwing a touchdown pass in consecutive games. Turns 42 on Friday, appears set to retire after the season.

AARON RODGERS: Third all-time in passer rating at 103.9, was first until Mahomes and Deshaun Watson passed him this year. Nine Pro Bowls. Has the lowest interception percentage (1.4) of all time. League best and career-high 48 touchdown passes this season, when fantasy players believed he was fading.

PATRICK MAHOMES: Named league MVP in first season as starter in 2018, when he threw 50 touchdown passes. Super Bowl MVP last season after leading Chiefs to first Super Bowl win in 50 years. Career leader in passing rating, tied with Rodgers for lowest interception rate. Fastest ever to 10,000 passing yards and 100 passing TDs.

LAMAR JACKSON: Was youngest quarterback to start an NFL playoff game two years ago. League MVP in 2019, when he threw for 36 touchdowns and rushed for 1,206 yards, breaking Michael Vick’s record for a QB. This year, he became first quarterback to rush for 1,000 twice. Now 30-7 in regular season as starter.

JOSH ALLEN: This season, became the first player in NFL history to have 4,500 yards passing, 35 touchdown passes and five rushing touchdowns in a season. Broke most of Bills’ team passing records this season, passed Jim Kelly for the best winning percentage (.651) of any Bills QB with 20 or more victories.

BAKER MAYFIELD: Broke the NFL record for touchdown passes by a rookie with 27 in 2018 (since broken by Justin Herbert). Became the first Browns quarterback since Otto Graham to throw four TD passes in a first half this year in a win over the Titans. Helped Browns end 17-year playoff drought. 

JARED GOFF: At 26, the only NFC quarterback under age 37 in the divisional round. First overall pick in 2016 draft, led Rams to their first playoff in 14 years in 2017, then to Super Bowl a year later. Passed for 517 yards in a loss in 2019. Forced into action with a broken thumb in LA’s wild-card win over Seattle.

Jerry Sullivan is an award-winning digital reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2020. See more of his work here.

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